Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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Theoretically it was a great idea to invite friends over for a last-minute barbecue so the kids could play outside while the adults chatted. It was a near-perfect impromptu summer plan. But then I looked down and saw that the floor of our apartment was carpeted in papers and crayons and stray Legos, and I noticed the smears of toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. We couldn't let our friends see this mess, and I couldn't possibly get the place to an acceptable level of cleanliness by the time they'd get here. As I chucked a stray pair of socks and slumped onto the couch, I briefly considered calling to cancel rather than letting our friends see such embarrassing domestic chaos. 

Meet my inner perfectionist. She doesn’t come out often, thanks to years of reflection and conscious habit-changing (not to mention having two children and a business to run). But she’s still hoarding 23 article drafts because they’re not quite ready to put out into the world yet, and she’s always daydreaming about that time when her future self will magically have more time. Then she’ll perfectly do all the things that have been in need of doing – reorganize that overflowing file cabinet, transcribe all the notes of cute things the kids said from the tiny slips of paper on her desk, and complete and submit every last one of those article ideas.

It's all one big stalling technique, I know. Just another way to put off finishing anything for fear that it won't meet my own high expectations. Whether at work, on creative projects, or at home, the perfectionist/procrastinator in me can always throw up an objection to calling a writing project ‘done’ and she fears allowing friends to witness just how ‘undone’ our home environment is. ‘What does it say about me?’ she wonders. ‘What if the world thinks this is the best I can do?’

But the truth is, while it’s not necessarily the best I can do, it’s the best I can do right now, under these circumstances. It’s the best I can do without avoiding doing it altogether.

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In my yoga classes, I encourage students to practice being content with where they are that day. I smile and remind students that sometimes the balance just isn’t there in tree pose (especially when I’m the one doing most of the wobbling), and encourage them to believe that doing the best wobbly tree pose you can do today is better than not doing it at all. I laugh when, even after 15 years of teaching, I mess up my right and left while cueing students into triangle. Yoga’s unofficial motto is not ‘Practice makes perfect,’ but rather ‘Practice, and then practice again tomorrow.’  

I feel freed by the knowledge that there is no need to pursue perfection when it comes to the physical, and I long ago stopped caring how my poses look or how my practice measures up to my neighbor’s. In fact, I love witnessing the changes and fluctuations of the physical on the mat. So why is it so hard to translate that attitude off the mat?

Off the mat the stakes are higher. Moving beyond the physical and into how I run my business or my home, the way I am with my children, or who I am as a creative being feels way more personal than how steady my tree pose is or whether I mess up as a teacher (again). These imperfections, unlike the limits or weaknesses of a body posing on a yoga mat, reveal a core part of my being, one that perhaps I wish could be more polished than is possible. To invite the world to see your imperfection at home, at work, or with family is to be fully revealed for who you are. Sometimes it just seems easier to pretend or to put things off until another day.

Back at home, I realize I have three choices:

1. Decide our house is just too messy for our friends to come over.

2. Tell them to come an hour later and spend that time frantically throwing all our junk in the closet instead of being with them.

3. Invite our friends into our home as is and let them see our state of less-than-perfection.

The rational part of me fully recognizes that our friends don't want to come over to socialize with our house, they want to see us, to be with us. So I take a few minutes to tidy the most essential offenders, invite our friends to join us (and a few dust bunnies) for an evening together, and know that because they are good friends they’ll look at us rather than our unmade bed. After the hugs and shoving a few blankets off the couch I invite them to sit down, making a conscious effort to avoid explaining away our messiness. Instead we let ourselves be seen, just as we are, in our full imperfection. It’s a start, and the start of a great evening together.

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Posted by on in Family

It was a beautiful summer afternoon and we were sitting outside at my parents' house with my extended family, having some ice cream. Someone got the idea to put on some music, so my brother cued up a few songs. I leaned back in my Adirondack chair, tapped my toes, and nodded my head to the beat with a grin as an old Smashing Pumpkins song came over the speakers. With a light breeze blowing, the sun going down, and good music and good company blending together, all at once I felt as relaxed as if I were on a nice long vacation.

Then the record skipped, figuratively speaking (and nearly literally). The song abruptly changed to some pop song about about rocking in a club all night. After 15 seconds or so, it changed again to a song about a red solo cup. Then again to something else that was subsequently changed so quickly I didn't have a chance to identify the melody or lyrics. All the while, my kids and their cousins were yelling over each other as each new song came on - 'I love this one!' - until finally the grown-ups groaned, 'Just let one song play all the way through!"

I had a knee-jerk 'Kids these days....' reaction, lamenting the fact that our fast-paced culture is ruining our children's attention spans. But when I took an honest look at myself and my own habits, I could think of more than one occasion in which I opted not to read an online article because it was more than three pages long. I could even come up with a few instances where I clicked on a link to a youtube video someone had forwarded to me and decided after watching 1 minute of the 7 minute video that I pretty much got the gist.



It's exciting to hear the first few bars of a song and say, "I love this!" or "I hate this!' But listening to the whole thing requires getting past the initial burst of excitement over the song and the rush of dopamine, in order to stick with it long enough to see it through.

While our incredible shrinking attention span may not be one of the great societal dangers of our age, the ability to concentrate and pay attention for a sustained period of time is a "Use it or lose it" proposition, and unfortunately as a society we seem to be well on our way to losing it.


Sound the trumpets: Yoga can help! Studies have shown that practicing yoga can improve concentration. Each time you practice a pose like vrksasana or tree, you are not only working your legs and hips, you're also practicing sustaining your focus in order to maintain balance. When you lose concentration, the feedback is instant: you wobble and perhaps even fall out of the pose. Wobbliness is inevitable, no matter how long you've been practicing. The real work lies in learning to refocus and come back into the pose. The real challenge is to go back and see it through once distraction (or loss of balance) has taken hold.

Since that lovely summer afternoon, I've been practicing sustained concentration on the mat by slowing down and paying closer attention to my breath as I move and hold poses. When my mind wanders off, seeking new excitement whether via thoughts about what I'm going to do later or ideas about a more challenging pose that I might try, I consider it a growth opportunity. Like in tree, I refocus and come right back to where I am and know that the simple act of paying attention to my body and breath is a concrete way to undo all the daily damage of quick-fire song changes and communication in 140 characters or less.

My hope is that when the next 4+ page article comes my way, I can draw upon my experience of staying present on the mat in order to resist the lure of the email that just landed in my inbox or the text that just came through or the song that beckons from the cue, to simply see one thing all the way through.

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